Lawmakers in Wisconsin are now considering a new bill that would put cameras into operating rooms, CBS58 writes. A similar law, designed to clarify disputes in medical malpractice claims, is making its way through New York’s legislature.
Can Video Evidence Of Surgery Help Reduce Medical Errors?
Around 40% of medical errors occur in the operating room. Half of these mistakes, estimates suggest, are avoidable. But surgical theater is a notoriously secretive environment, which makes assigning liability for medical complications exceedingly difficult.
The Wisconsin legislation, referred to as Julie’s Law, hopes to change that. The bill was inspired by the tragic story of a 38-year-old woman who died around three months after undergoing a breast augmentation surgery. When her grieving family attempted to investigate the procedure, they found it hard to gather any direct evidence from inside the operating theater. Witness statements are unreliable and surgical records can be sketchy and unreflective.
Inspired By Sister’s Death, Wisconsin Man Fights For Transparency
Eventually, however, the family was able to piece together a chilling story. The woman’s surgeon administered around 4-times the correct amount of propofol, a drug used as anesthesia, forcing his patient into cardiac arrest. “The doctor had no license in anesthesia,” the woman’s brother, Wade Ayer, says. “He was required by state medical law to have an anesthesiologist present. He decided knowingly and conscientiously to bypass this and operate.”
Alongside Wisconsin Representative Christine Sinicki, Ayer drafted a law to prevent similar tragedies from affecting other families. A previous version of Julie’s Law was shot down in 2015, according to Channel 3000, after six of Wisconsin’s leading medical organizations voiced their opposition to the change. Sinicki entered the bill in Wisconsin’s Congress for a second try at passage on December 7, 2017.
Cameras Would Identify Human Error & Protect Good Doctors
As currently-drafted, Julie’s Law would allow patients (and select family members in the event of a patient’s death) to access audio and visual records of surgical operations. It’s crucial evidence when something goes wrong, patient safety advocates argue. And the benefits run both ways. Having an objective record of medical procedures could help to place blame on doctors who make bad decisions, but it could just as easily exonerate a medical professional from any and all liability.
That’s how Sinicki, a Democrat representing Wisconsin’s Assembly District 20, sees the issue. “This bill,” Sinicki told reporters, “just allows the opportunity to record procedures to either identify possible human error or potentially protect medical professionals by demonstrating that they did nothing wrong.”
To support the idea, advocates point to other industries in which lives are at stake. Airplanes are equipped with “black boxes” to collect evidence in the event of an accident. And a growing number of municipalities have made body cameras mandatory for police officers. Why would an operating room be any different? Opponents of Julie’s Law argue that cameras inside the operating room would threaten both doctor and patient privacy, while adding increased stress to an environment that is already nerve-wracking.
Toronto Surgeon Tries Out OR “Black Box”
When advocates began to push for police body cameras, law enforcement officials almost universally opposed the idea. Today, however, some police officers have seen the benefit in having an untainted record of consequential, and controversial, events. A number of doctors are coming around to the idea’s in Julie’s Law, too.
Teodor P. Grantcharov, a surgeon and professor at the University of Toronto, is already piloting his own version of the proposal. In 2015, Grantcharov built his own “black box” for surgical operations, Medscape reports, which collects a massive amount of data inside the surgical theater. Video and audio recordings are paired with continual measures of a patient’s vital signs, allowing physicians, in retrospect, to analyze their choices and improve on them.
Granthcharov’s hope is to help surgeons refine their techniques, but he also thinks his surgical “black box” could go a long way to clear up medical malpractice litigation. “In the majority of cases, the data will protect doctors in court,” the Toronto-based doctor told Medscape. Whether or not that’s the case, putting a camera inside every operating theater would certainly help patients, attorneys and physicians get to the truth a lot quicker.